2017’s Least Aggressive Base Stealing Teams

If you have not read my former post, 2017’s Most Aggressive Base Stealing Teams, I would recommend doing so before moving forward.

2017’s Most Aggressive Base Stealing Teams

Much like the previous post, I am beginning my look at the least aggressive teams with a high-level inspection of their aggregate stolen base rates ((SB+CS)/SBO)). These figures were downloaded from Baseball Reference. Light red represents one standard deviation below average and dark red represents two STDs.

Team Att per SBO Not Aggressive

Baltimore was dead last each of the past three years! On its own that would not be worrisome, but in conjunction with their notorious aversion for foreign signees, it becomes a concern. The below link to Baseball America from last July sums it up. They were the only team to abstain from acquiring a single player during last year’s J2 International Singing Period. It has to make you question why are their practices are so abnormal relative to the other teams. This is a red flag.

Baseball America 2017 J2 Singings

Not Agressive 3 yr with ranks

Seeing Baltimore dead last three years in a row made me curious how the other four teams fared in previous seasons. It turns out the Mets, Athletics, and Blue Jays were fairly docile each year. I think it’s fair to expect the trend to continue going forward.

The Phillies, however, were average to aggressive in 2015-2016. Was 2017 an outlier? It’s hard to say. I took a look at how often individual players were sent the past three years to see if anything could be gleaned from it. For some reason the Phillies started running less with Galvis, Hernandez, Herrera, and Altherr. Hernandez had a poor success rate (56.67%) in 2016 so I can understand why his attempts were reduced. In my cursory, unthorough (is this even a word??) internet searches I found Herrera and Altherr both had leg injuries last year. Altherr’s was a hamstring tweak in mid-July, and Herrera went to the DL with a hamstring strain retroactive to mid-August. Alterr’s injury was pretty minor and Herrera didn’t miss time until the last six weeks of the season so neither of these seem explain the large declines in their attempt rates. I am stumped.

PHI 2015-2017

Att.SBO vs SS Rank Not AggressiveTo learn more about the team-level stolen base attempt rates, let’s see how they compare to each team’s weighted average sprint speed. (SS Weighted Avs) Not too surprisingly, the teams that attempted the least steals on a rate basis also were among the slowest in the league. The exception was the Phillies who ranked 13th. This chart begs the question, which came first: the stolen base attempt rate or the sprint speed? I think the answer is the sprint speed. If teams do not put a high value on stealing bases it would probably start with the GM and players they chose to acquire. Looking at the four teams in question, this appears to be the case. Either way having slow guys on the roster is not going to incentivize teams to run.

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Let’s take a look at each team’s stolen base attempt rates at a player-level to see if anything can be learned from them.

Baltimore Orioles – Whether right or wrong, Dan Duquette constructed their roster with a total apathy for speed. Only four players exceeded the average sprint speed mark of 27 ft/sec, although this is a bit deceiving because Machado, Mancini, Schoop, and Tejada were right around average. As a team, their weighted average sprint speed was third slowest in the majors. Adam Jones and Tim Beckham were probably capable of running more but were rarely sent. As long as the current regime is at the helm, don’t expect Orioles acquisitions to get many (or any) attempts unless they are burners. But it looks like Baltimore is averse to acquiring guys like that in the first place.

Oakland Athletics – Only Rajai Davis and Marcus Semien were sent at above average rates. The rest of the team didn’t steal. I was a bit surprised to see Matt Chapman highlighted as a plus runner (1 STD > AVE). He’s never been known as a base-stealer. It makes you wonder if he has a slow first step but fast max speed. Overall, it’s pretty clear Oakland does not place a high value on steals, but if they have a speed-oriented guy like Davis they will send him.

New York Mets – Four runners were sent less often than their sprint speeds might imply. If you are an Amed Rosario fantasy owner should you be concerned? At first glance his stolen base rate looks to be in line with his sprint speed. I wanted to check to see how his SB Att% compared to similar runners league-wide (within .2 ft/sec) and did so below. His SB Att% was smack in the middle of the seven player sample so I think it’s fair to say the Mets weren’t curtailing his attempts. Still, the Mets were non-aggressive as a whole.

Amed Rosario Speed Comps

Toronto Blue Jays – Another front office that does not care about speed, in fact, they were the slowest roster based on my weighted average sprint speed sheet. Richard Urena was the only player well above average. It’s worth noting, however, they were willing to send above average runners at rates in line with their speeds, they just didn’t employ many of them.

In totality, theses tables were not terribly enlightening. but if we can learn anything from them, non-aggressive teams are not a death knell for fast runners. Prolific base stealers will get their stolen bases regardless of organization.

2017’s Most Aggressive Base Stealing Teams

In June of 2017, Baseball Savant introduced a new Statcast metric for public consumption. They defined sprint speed as “‘feet per second in a player’s fastest one-second window.’ The Major League average on a ‘max effort’ play is 27 ft/sec, and the max effort range is roughly from 23 ft/sec (poor) to 30 ft/sec (elite). A player must have at least 10 max effort runs to qualify for this leaderboard.”

Now that we have a year’s worth of data, and we are trapped in the middle of a cold, dark offseason, I thought it would be an opportune time to play around with it. Over the last few weeks I sliced, diced, and minced the numbers. One area explored was team sprint speed and its relationship to stolen base attempts. Sprint speed was pulled from the Baseball Savant Leaderboard and stolen base data was downloaded from Baseball Reference.

Team Att.SBO Plus

As a proxy for team aggressiveness I added team stolen bases to caught stealing and divided by stolen base opportunities (plate appearances through which a runner was on first or second with the next base open). SB Att% = (SB+CS)/SBO

The table above shows teams that sent runners most often in their SBOs each of the past three seasons. Light green represents one standard deviation above average and dark green denotes two standard deviations above average. One has to question how much these totals were the result of team aggressiveness and how much they were the result of team personnel. To check I took a weighted average of each player’s sprint speed by respective player’s plate appearances and then added to find team totals. SS=speed in the next table. If you’re curious to see the exact figures I attached my sheet here: SS Weighted Avs

Att.SBO vs SS Rank

Surprisingly, the 2017 Angels attempted steals at the highest rate despite being the second slowest team! The Brewers and Rangers were also quite aggressive despite their below average collective sprint speeds. The implication is these three teams had some sort of organizational edict to test defenses and attempt more steals. On the other hand, the Reds were the tenth fastest team. It’s also worth noting they were the only team to attempt steals at a plus rate (1 STD > AVE) each of the past three seasons.

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To make more sense of the team-level numbers, I decided to get granular and look at them on a player level. First, I wanted to see how many players on each team attempted steals at a higher rate than the league average (5.17%), which you can see in the first column of the table below. Then, I wanted to see how many “not fast” players on each team attempted steals more than the league average rate. I did this by introducing a second filter, player sprint speed. The second and third columns show how many players per team were non-elite & below average runners but attempted steals more than the average rate.

For the purpose of this post I defined above average sprint speed as greater than 27 ft/sec and less than 28.3 ft/second. In the sample of 451 players on Baseball Savant’s Sprint Speed Leaderboard, 28.3 ft/sec was one standard deviation greater than average and 27 ft/sec was average. The middle column below shows eight Rangers, six Angels, and six Brewers attempted steals at a greater than average rate while having above average or worse speed. In other words, eight Rangers, six Angles, and six Brewers were non-elite runners but stole at a rate greater than league average anyway.

# Plyrs per team with att per SBO over 5.17

And they were not alone! My efforts monkeying around with filters and subtotals in Excel yielded this table. What does it tell us? Well for one, the Reds were not as aggressive sending runners as their overall SB Att% would suggest. Additionally, you could argue the Red Sox and Diamondbacks belong in the same conversation as the Angels, Brewers, and Rangers. They were willing to send a comparable number of non-elite runners at greater than league average rates.

While useful, this table is imperfect. Notably, it fails to account for magnitude of the SB Att%. In other words, it treats players who barely clear the league average threshold the same as players who are well above average.

The screenshots below display SB Att% by player for the five aforementioned teams plus Cincinnati. I highlighted SB Att% and sprint speed columns to add some meaning to the figures. It is intended to help visualize whether players attempted steals at a rate commensurate with their speed. The darker the green, the further from the mean. For example, Ryan Braun’s sprint speed cell is white (below average), but his SB Att% is green (over a standard deviation greater than average) so he attempted more steals than his sprint speed would suggest.

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Color Coding Explained

For those curious I attached my full spreadsheet. There are two tabs which show SS vs SB Att%: One for a sample of 451 and another for a sample of 491. The second tab adds extra lines for players who played for multiple teams. Sprint Speed vs SB Att%


I made observations on each of the six teams from the slideshow in the blurbs below:

Arizona Diamondbacks – Micro-level, Ketel Marte only attempted steals in 3.85% of his SBOs, a below average rate, despite ranking 29/451 in sprint speed. He should see an increase in his stolen base attempts to at least the above average range next season. Macro-level, the team was less aggressive than I thought. They were the sixth fastest team on my weighted average sprint speed sheet. And they had five players who ran less than their sprint speed may imply. The large number of Diamondbacks attempting to steal at a high rate seems to be due to their roster construction rather than organizational tendencies. I.e. their roster was littered with above average sprint speed players.

Boston Red Sox – I would classify the Red Sox as somewhat aggressive. They were willing to send three above average runners, Benintendi, Betts, and Nunez at well above average rates. They were also “sneaky aggressive” in the sense they sent below average runners Vazquez and Chris Young at above average rates. They should consider sending Bogaerts more often. Not only does his speed indicate he is capable of it, he was only caught stealing once in 16 attempts (94% success rate).

Cincinnati Reds – How does a team with the fourth highest stolen base attempt rate (shown in first table) have only three runners attempt steals at an above average rate? Billy f****** Hamilton. That’s how. He attempted steals an absurd 33.33% of the time in his 216 stolen base opportunities last year. Simply silly. I want to know how many of his attempts included pitch outs. Billy (yes we are on a first name basis) and to a lesser degree Jose Peraza were complete anomalies on this list, and their rates heavily skewed the Reds data. Cincinnati as a whole is firmly in the non-aggressive bucket.

Los Angeles Angels – The Angels table was revealing. All of their eight fastest runners attempted more steals than their speed may suggest. None of their 11 slowest runners attempted more steals than expected. This helps to explain how they could simultaneously attempt the steals at the highest rate while having the second slowest roster. In essence, they were selectively aggressive, stealing more often than expected with above average runners and making little to no effort with below average runners. On a player level, I found it surprising that neither Cameron Maybin nor Ben Revere cleared the plus threshold for sprint speed (1 STD > AVE). However! (S.A.S. voice) They attempted steals at an elite rate (3 STD > AVE).

Milwaukee Brewers – This is a run happy team. Seven players ran more than expected based on their sprint speed, two of whom, Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana sported average or worse sprint speed. Jonathan Villar attempted steals three STDs over the league average rate with merely above average sprint speed.

Texas Rangers – Perhaps the most aggressive team in MLB, they sent some below average runners at above average rates, and they sent above average runners at well above average rates. Delino Deshields was their only real burner, but that didn’t stop them from sending eight other players at an above average rate, which was the second most in the league. (Shown in the second table, first column)

For fantasy players it would be wise to keep an eye on offseason acquisitions by the Rangers, Brewers, and Angels. These players are liable to see increase in their stolen bases in 2018. To what degree? This will be tackled in a future post. Also on tap, who were the least aggressive teams and what we can learn from their data?


A few notes on the information from the slide show:

*Many Detailed Statistics are based on play-by-play accounts accumulated by RetroSheet. These totals may be incomplete – (Copied verbatim from Baseball Reference). This is referring to the asterisks next to player names.

**No players in the sprint speed data set are greater than three standard deviations from the mean. That does not mean Buxton, Hamilton etc. are not 80 runners on the scouting scale. It just means the distribution for sprint speeds does not follow a normal curve.

***Not every player was available on the Sprint Speed Leaderboard, limiting our sample to 451, which is why the average SB Att% of 5.01% differs from the overall league at 5.17%.

11/11/17, 11/13/17 AFL Notes

AFL Notes 11/13/17

Kyle Regnault (LHP) New York Mets – Left-handed command specialist is the best four-word phrase I could come up with to describe Regnault. His fastball is not overpowering, but it can be effective due to his array of secondary offerings. He can run the fastball arm side in on the hands of right-handed hitters or straighten it. Regnault’s best pitch is a high 70s curveball with two plane movement and hefty depth. He’ll throw it either at the bottom of the zone or as a chase pitch. The curve gets a lot of swing and miss. Regnault also employs a low 80s slider. It’s not as good as the curve, but it serves as an effective change of pace. The fourth option is a low 80s changeup that has moderate depth and fade. He seemed to reserve this pitch for lefties and would run it away from them. Regnault’s overall arsenal works because he is able to command all four offerings and keep them down in the zone. I think he is polished and ready for a shot at middle relief in the majors.

AFL Notes 11/11/17

Adam Choplick (LHP) Texas Rangers – After losing out to Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson in the casting process for Game of Thrones’ “The Moutain”, Choplick resorted to his backup plan, a baseball career. He is a massive human, listed at 6’9” 250. With his colossal frame and long arms, one might expect natural plus extension, but his use of a high three-quarters arm slot undermines it. On the other hand, his height and arm slot allow Choplick to pitch with significant downhill plane. I can see this having divergent effects on his fastball and curveball. His high 70s curveball already has quality depth, which is augmented by the plane. Hitters should swing over the top or make contact on the top of the ball, meaning lots of ground balls. Alternatively, plane on his 92-95 mph fastball should result in fly balls. I think hitters will gauge its downward angle and respond with an upward-sloping bat path, allowing them to keep their bat in the zone longer. The uppercut path should result in more fly balls.

The curveball has been Choplick’s most-used secondary offering, and he commands it well. I think the command combined with its aforementioned depth make it a plus pitch. His slider was serviceable but below average. Choplick used it inside to jam right-handed hitters. Choplick has posted excellent numbers in the minors but has also been older than league averages. Next season he will be more age-appropriate in the Texas League, which should be revealing. Overall, Choplick looks like a pen piece. I think the stuff falls short of a closer profile, but middle relief or setup are possible outcomes.

11/02/17, 11/06/17 AFL Notes

11/06/17 AFL Notes

Sean Murphy (C) Oakland Athletics – Murphy has a well-rounded game with defensive skills that are likely to play at the highest level, not only giving him a high floor but also a good chance to be an everyday player. The arm is elite. Scout chatter is he threw out a runner by 10 feet with a 1.78 pop earlier in this fall. I have seen him around 1.85, but regardless it is a legitimate weapon and 70 grade tool. Today, I saw Murphy make a smooth back-handed stop and throw out Thairo Estrada from his knees. Murphy’s blocking ability is also quite good, earning plus grades. I can attest to his propensity for making quality blocks on pitches in the dirt. It is a regular occurrence. The jury is still out on the bat, but I am encouraged by what I have seen. Murphy swings really hard and has respectable contact skills. During the 11/02 game, he went oppo on a 98 mph offering from Jordan Hicks, and scouts in my vicinity asserted, “This kid does not get cheated.” Balls on the ground are normally pulled, and fly balls are hit to all fields. I think it is a potential 50 bat at maturity, which would make Murphy a first-division regular. Having said that, 2018 will be a big litmus test as he will have another crack at AA Midland. The struggle was real in AA last season, with a slash line of .209/.288/.309 in 217 PAs. Based on his AFL performance thus far, I am optimistic Murphy can figure out AA pitching and will find himself on the precipice of the majors next year.

11/02/17 AFL Notes

Jordan Hicks (RHP) St. Louis Cardinals – In 2015 the Cardinals used their third round pick on a high school pitcher from Houston, Texas who sat 92-93 and touched 96 with his fastball. That pitcher was Jordan Hicks. Now he’s a 21-year-old that sits 96-98 and can touch triple digits. I think we can throw that into the developmental success bucket! Today the velo did not disappoint, as my gun displayed one hundo. The velocity was sexy, but the pitch missed fewer bats than I expected (between today and my previous viewing). I think the underlying causes were pitch location and lack of movement (i.e. it’s a straight fastball). The secondary offering was a slider in the 83-87 range, which Hicks “played with” to vary velocity. It made sharp two-plane break and missed a fair amount of bats. I think it’s a potential plus pitch. Hitters looked to be geared up for the heat and swung over it. Also, I’m no expert but Hicks’ mechanics appear sub-optimal. Watching him in .25x speed, you can see the front leg and body move toward home well before the arm starts moving forward. I think the result is a disproportionately heavy burden on his arm (relative to many deliveries). Deliveries look more natural when the torso, legs, and arm all move toward home concurrently. The delivery combined with the stuff look like a golden ticket to the bullpen, which is not necessarily a negative. The Cardinals may have found themselves a future closer.

(11/9 Edit – The more I think about it, I wonder how much Hicks’ velocity gain is simply due to throwing shorter stints. I’ve read he was throwing roughly as hard as his HS velo in 2016 when he started games. He began relieving toward the end of 2017. Perhaps this is cause of the spike.)

10/19/17, 10/20/17 Arizona Fall League Notes

10/20/17 AFL Notes

Nolan Blackwood (RHP) Athletics – There is a lot to like about Blackwood. The 6’5” righty uses his frame to his advantage to achieve deception. He caught my eye in a previous outing when he made Francisco Mejia look ugly in a three-pitch strikeout. The fastball sits low 90s and is thrown from a sidearm angle. Hitters appear to struggle picking up the ball out of his hand, which helps everything play up. His change is in the low 80s, and both of the aforementioned pitches have quality sink. Today Blackwood also busted out a 75-77 mph curveball. It is a pitch he reserves for right-handed hitters. It was not used in his previous outing when he faced three lefties. I was muttering aloud trying to figure out who Blackwood reminds me of delivery-wise. A scout offered up Dan Otero as a comp.

10/19/17 AFL Notes

Yonathan Daza (OF) Rockies – I have seen Daza a few times this fall and have come away impressed each time. Daza is a plus runner posting home to first times around 4.2 from the right. He hits baseballs with authority, and I would love to see his Statcast exit velocity data. Looking at his Fangraphs page, I found he only hit three home runs in 569 plate appearances last year. His physique looks capable of more. Before the AFL ends I am shooting to catch a couple of his BP sessions and get a side look of his swing to gauge swing plane. Even if the home runs do not come, I think Daza is a high floor guy who should be at least a fourth outfielder. It is not hard to envision him launching gappers all over Coors Field.

 

10/16/17, 10/17/17 Arizona Fall League Notes

10/17/17 AFL Notes

Shedon Neuse (3B) Athletics – If the announcer at AFL games is correct, this guy’s name is pronounced “noisy”. Baseball Reference could neither confirm nor deny. Neuse has shown me a lot this fall. He makes frequent loud contact and tends to shoot baseballs opposite field into the right/center gap. He is capable of using all fields though. He has a good feel to hit and awareness of the zone. I think the power will play to average because the approach seems more contact-oriented than power-oriented. I have yet to see him in BP, but I suspect there is more raw in the bat than he has shown in games. Defensively, he lacks some agility and quickness of his peers. However, I think the industry consensus is he has enough to get the job done. I was thinking he has an above average arm. Then, a scout informed me Neuse used to touch mid 90s as a pitcher so it’s probably plus. This is a guy I am in on as a possible every day regular. (10/25 Edit – Today Neuse played shortstop and looked good there! He made a solid play on a tough grounder and showed quick hands getting it to first. The athleticism is better than I originally thought.)

Graphic From MLBFarm.com

Sheldon Neuse_HeatMap

10/16/17 AFL Notes

Nicky Lopez (SS) Royals – The Royals made a shrewd selection when they took Lopez in the 5th round of the 2016 draft. He has the look of a second division regular. There are a lot of average or better tools in his proverbial box. Offensively, he can control the zone and foul off pitches until he gets one that he likes. In today’s game he was able to take a Sheffield slider oppo for a double. The bat control is real. Ex post facto, I wasn’t surprised to look at his fangraphs page and discover he only struck out in 9% of his plate appearances this season. One fair criticism is his swing plane will not generate much power. On the bases, I have seen him in the 4.15-4.20 range from the left side, which grades above average. He looks to be a capable defender at short as well.

10/13/17, 10/14/17 Arizona Fall League Notes

10/14/17 AFL Notes

Kirby Bellow (LHP) Diamondbacks – Bellow is a lefty who stands on the far right side of the rubber (hitter’s perspective) and pounds the opposite side of the plate with fastballs and curveballs. He was extremely predictable but effective nonetheless. Bellow’s fastball was mostly 90-91 but one touched 95. His curveball was high 70s and is probably his best pitch. It was generating a lot of swing and miss. When batters were able to make contact, it resulted in weak ground balls. He sparingly used a changeup around 83 as a weapon against right-handed hitters. His arm angle looks really tough on lefties. Curiosity got me, and I looked up his platoon splits. Last season in a 39 2/3 inning sample at AA-Jackson, RHH were held to a .654 ops and LHH were utterly dominated. They only had two hits in 61 plate appearances, resulting in a minuscule .098 ops. Bellow should excel as a LOOGY with the upside of a more conventional middle reliever.

(11/26 Edit – I learned that Bellow’s breaker is actually a slider not a curve as I wrote above.)

10/13/17 AFL Notes

Dean Deetz (RHP) Astros – I really liked Deetz’s three-pitch mix. It’s definitely worthy of a major league pen. His fastball sat 95-96 and touched 98, although it has been somewhat hittable in my viewings. His 83-85 slider had hefty two plane break, but his command of the pitch waivered. His change was 86-87, and he could spot it to both sides of the plate. Overall, the stuff was impressive, but the command was worrisome. I think Deetz a guy who could thrive in a middle relief role. I also think he’s a guy who could cause your favorite team’s fanbase a lot of stress in a high-leverage role, resulting in a myriad of prematurely balding heads.